Testing the Felker FTS-50 Tile Saw (10-4-2003)
John P. Bridge
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In September, 2003 my friend Andy Lundberg of Felker/Target (tile saws), Olathe, Kansas, sent me a Felker FTS-50 to try out. The saw is a low cost import ("cheap" isn't in my vocabulary) that falls into the category that Andy calls "box saws." It is designed for very light duty -- a small tile job or repair work. It is lightweight and easily carted around from job to job. The case is reminiscent of the electric typewriters we used before word processors came along. You can tuck the tool under your arm and walk away with it. ;-)
Box saws are harder to use than the saws that have moving carts which carry the tile under the blade. The FTS-50 is a miniature table saw. You push the tile across the table and into the blade. As it turns, the blade passes through a reservoir of water beneath the table. The water both cools the blade and lubricates it as it wears its way through the tile.
Edge guides (rip guides) on box saws are not accurate and are difficult to use. The guide on the FTS-50 is not an improvement in this regard. It works if you are careful to adjust it and you don't place a lot of pressure against it. We found that marking the tile with a pencil all the way across and then following the pencil line was easier than using the guide.
Another characteristic of box saws in general is that they throw water up and out as the blade turns. In many cases you need to protect yourself with a plastic apron in order to avoid wetting your clothing as you use the tool. The crotch area usually takes the brunt of the assault. ;-) Felker has taken steps to lessen the problem, though. There are small brushes at the rear of the blade where it emerges from the water reservoir that are quite effective in reducing the amount of water the blade throws out. I still found it advantageous to stand to one side while using the tool.
One rather nice feature of the FTS-50 is the tilting table that allows you to back miter tile edges at 45 degrees. With just a little practice I was able to do a consistently passable job.
Making "L" and "U" shaped cuts is not difficult with the FTS-50 when the cuts are clearly marked. An advantage of table saws is that the blade cuts from the under side of the tile. Keep and eye on what you're doing, and your L-cuts come out nice every time.
Box saws are notorious for motor stoppages due to wetness. The motor resides down under the table alongside the water reservoir. It is protected by a circuit breaker that turns it off when it becomes wet. I must say the FTS-50 did not shut down even once during the course of a day-long job. This is actually quite impressive. :-)
The FTS-50 sports a 5-inch blade that is turned by a very small 1/2 h.p. motor. You cannot force a tile through a cut, but you can cut just about anything if you are patient. I would say that tiles up to about 12 inches square could be cut with the tool. Tiles larger than that would be too heavy for the plastic box, although I didn't try cutting a truly heavy tile.
I recommend the FTS-50 for people who might only want to do a small tile job, say a bath floor or an entryway. We did a tub surround with a window in it and had no trouble at all making the necessary miter and "L" cuts. A kitchen backsplash would also be a suitable job for the FTS-50.
I would also recommend the tool to professionals who need a saw in making occasional repairs (not that pros ever make mistakes). I would not recommend the tool for larger floors or for heavy tiles. At a minimum, I would move up to the TM-75 for such jobs.
The Felker FTS-50 can be had for less than a hundred dollars.
You can get the straight scoop on all Felker tools at the Felker web site. Online support is also available at the John Bridge Forums.
To buy a Felker saw or just about any other tool, visit my friends Rick and Joe at ConstructionComplete. :)
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